NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 12: RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks looks on in the second half against the Washington Wizards at Madison Square Garden on February 12, 2020 in New York City.The Washington Wizards defeated the New York Knicks 114-96. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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The New York Knicks pursued a fourth straight win over Gregg Popovich and the highly skilled and disciplined San Antonio Spurs.

A lot of the New York Knicks’ success this year can be attributed to Tom Thibodeau’s coaching, which made Wednesday’s tilt with the San Antonio Spurs all the more interesting. A coaching chess match, if you will.

Except Thibodeau’s opponent wasn’t Bobby Fischer. Nor was it Garry Kasparov, Boris Spassky, or even wunderkind Beth Harmon.

No, Thibodeau’s opponent Wednesday was Gregg Popovich, the man who made the Spurs a household name. The man has amassed five championship rings and over 1,200 wins in San Antonio. Checkmating him would prove a tall order.

And the Knicks would be shorthanded at the point in battling the Spurs. Derrick Rose was ruled out for health and safety reasons, and Elfrid Payton missed his fourth straight game with a bum hamstring.

Would the depleted Knicks be able to overcome the lack of Rose’s sparkplug energy and beat deep and dangerous San Antonio?

Let’s begin.


1st quarter: Stumbling out of the gate

If you want a good summary of the first quarter, simply listen to this:

British comedy throwbacks aside, this was an ugly quarter on both sides. San Antonio led 25-23 after one, but shot just 36% from the field.

The New York Knicks, meanwhile, shot just 34.8% and only kept it close by closing the first quarter on a 9-1 run. No one looked great on offense, but Julius Randle continued his All-Star season with a ridiculous eight boards in the quarter.

Even with Popovich’s tough Spurs team, no one could have anticipated such a rough start for either team.



Halftime report: More of the same

Fans who hoped for better basketball in the second quarter were disappointed headed into halftime. Both the Spurs and the New York Knicks had high and low points, with New York leading by as many as six once.

Turnovers and bad fouls then took over as San Antonio led 51-47 at halftime, capped by Patty Mills’ triple at the buzzer. The Knicks shot just 41.3% in one half of basketball, but San Antonio wasn’t much better at 39.5%.

In what was sure to be a low-scoring game, who would hit that groove in the second half?



3rd quarter: Texas Tornado

There’s bad luck, and then there’s getting outclassed. In the case of the New York Knicks in the third quarter, it was very much the latter.

New York’s defense was more off balance than the skater kids at Union Square Park as the Spurs outscored them 36-21. No matter how Tom Thibodeau shouted from the sidelines, there was only so much his depleted roster could do.

And the fans at home? Well, they probably all did the same thing.



4th quarter: Slapped in San Antonio


There’s bad basketball, and then there’s the game the New York Knicks played this evening. The Spurs’ dominance continued in the fourth quarter, outscoring New York 34-25.

The Knicks shot 41.8% as a team, a number boosted by Immanuel Quickley’s garbage time threes. The Spurs’ leading scorer was Trey Lyles, with 18, and he’s only averaged 7.3 points per game for his career.

Oh, and did I mention San Antonio was without LaMarcus Aldridge tonight???

Well, at least it wasn’t a home loss?



Player of the Game: Frank Ntilikina

Frank Ntilikina is only just back in the rotation after not playing for almost two months, and started today with Rose ruled out. Instead of slow and rusty, he was in almost perfect rhythm.

The young Frenchman scored 13 points on seven shots and hit all three of his attempts from three, the silver lining on an otherwise forgettable night.



Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.